Παρασκευή 19 Ιουνίου 2015

my life as a transgender woman in cork

“You don’t decide to be a woman, you’ve always been one.” So says Cork woman Trish O’Connell, who was formerly a man. She tells MICHELLE MURPHY about how life as a transgender female – and why Caitlyn Jenner is a good role model

Trish O’Connell
IT seems that, for us women, some problems are universal. Like trying to find clothes that fit, for instance.
I’m chatting to Trish O’Connell, who is transgender, having formerly been a man, and she is filling me in on the travails of clothes shopping.
“Some trans females have broad shoulders,” she explains, “so we might be a size 16 on top and a size 12 on the bottom and that can be a problem.
“Shoes are a big problem too — I’m a size 11. I buy them in Evans. I don’t wear high heels because, if I did, I’d be 6ft 4!”
Like any good Cork woman, Trish — who has two children — usually heads to Penneys for her clothes fix.

The transgender community have been in the news of late, as part of the LGBT — lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender — umbrella group which campaigned so effectively and passionately for a ‘Yes’ vote in the referendum on gay marriage.
Indeed, the day I met Trish, who is a National Development Worker for the Transgender Equality Network Ireland (TENI), proved to be momentous for another reason.
Less than 24 hours earlier, the Cabinet had approved an updated Gender Recognition Bill to reflect the constitutional changes to marriage as a result of the recent marriage referendum.
The original bill had been published in late 2014, when same-sex marriage was prohibited. This meant that, in essence, a married person who transitioned would have had to divorce their partner in order to have their new gender recognised.
A transgender person will now be entitled to apply for a new birth certificate, stating their preferred gender and their new name should they choose to change it.

These developments are something that Trish, a Blackrock native, has been eagerly anticipating from both a personal and professional viewpoint.
“What this means to people is that finally — after a 20-year battle — you can get a birth cert.
“For example, last week I decided I’d do a night course. So I went online to apply. You have to give them your birth cert.
“For someone like me, that would ‘out’ me straight away. What would happen then is that you’d have to give them proof that you’d changed your name, but, now, those days are over.”
There is far more acceptance of transgender people in our society, and much curiosity too.
Trish explains it from her viewpoint: “You don’t ‘decide’ to be a woman — you’ve always been one.
“The real question is: when did you decide to stop pretending you were a man?”
The Cork woman is at pains to point out that trans gender people are not living a ‘lifestyle choice’.
“I don’t want to be like this. Sure why would I? It’s so hard.”
Trish gives me a glimpse of her journey to now.
“In my own case, I wouldn’t accept that I was transgender. I was going to psychologists for a year, trying to prove that I wasn’t ‘trans’ but the true self has to come out.
“You come to an impasse where you can no longer function as a man and the only choice you have is to transition.”

It’s not long before our conversation turns to Caitlyn Jenner, the U.S TV personality and former Olympic champion track and field athlete formerly known as William, who has just come out as a trans woman.
I ask Trish if the transgender community finds the sudden media interest in their lifestyle and its accompanying challenges slightly disingenuous.
On the contrary, Trish feels that anything that helps raise awareness of transgender issues and portrays transgender people in a positive light is to be commended, and that includes the stepfather of Kim Kardashian.
“One thing it shows is that being trans-gendered crosses all social and economic boundaries: it can affect people on the dole, it can affect millionaires,” says Trish.
“Even though the Kardashians are in the limelight and they have masses of money, it still would have been very difficult for her to tell her family.”
I wonder aloud if Caitlyn, who looked stunning in a recent photo shoot for Vanity Fair magazine, will place excessive pressure on transgender women to look a certain way — much like her stepdaughter, Kim?
Trish concedes that Caitlyn Jenner’s physical transition may not be one that many trans people can relate to.
“Caitlyn Jenner has a lot more resources financially than most people would have. That does help! She can get her face done, her boobs done, etc.”
And so on to another aspect of being a trans person that, it seems, many people are fascinated with: toilets and changing rooms!
Trish laughs as she tells me: “A lot of people get very hung up on toilets! I have never yet gone into a toilet where people are parading around naked — there are cubicles!
“People use the facilities of the gender they are expressing. The minute you start expressing yourself as female or male that’s it.
“For me, the thought of going into a male bathroom now is horrendous.”
Many things that myself and many other women take for granted need to be learned by trans females.
“We have to learn how to put on nail varnish,” explains Trish. “Most girls when they are six or seven years of age are trying on nail varnish with their friends, but we have to start from scratch.
“I missed out on the teenage years: trying out different looks and being a mad teenager.
“You have to develop your own style and you can’t do it overnight. It takes a bit of time… what suits you, what body shape you are…”
When it comes to her partner of more than 20 years and the mother of her two children, Trish says they have a very accepting, harmonious relationship.
“My case was different because we knew for a long time that I maybe was trans and she supported me every single step of the way.
“We’re still together as friends but we’ll never be man and wife because the whole relationship changes.”

Likewise, whilst initially coming as a shock to them, Trish’s two sons have now accepted their father’s transition.
“Apparently, the Kardashians knew a couple of years ago that ‘something was up’, but for my lads it was totally out of the blue,” says Trish.
“My eldest son was probably a bit angry at first; it took a while but they accept it now.”
To illustrate her point, Trish concludes our chat with a witty anecdote courtesy of her younger son:
“I remember I was saving up and hoping to get a loan out of the credit union. I was thinking I’d either get a boob job or a nose job.
“So I was saving away anyway and I said it to my younger son, ‘What do you think — a boob job or a nose job?’
“And he just looked at me and said, ‘Dad, with a nose like that boobs would be no good to ya!”

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